This Student's Portable Vaccine "Mini-Fridge" Could Save Thousands Of Lives

Not your typical university student's mini-fridge. Isobar/William Broadway

A 22-year-old student has developed a portable cooling system that can keep vaccines at the ideal temperature while they're transported across developing countries.

The design was created as part of a university project by Will Broadway, an industrial design and technology graduate from Loughborough University in the UK. More recently, it has been awarded the UK national winner of the James Dyson Award, an esteemed design and technology competition. The international winner, personally selected by the inventor James Dyson, will be announced on October 27.

Dubbed the “Isobar”, it’s able to maintain a stable temperature between 2 and 8°C (35.6 and 46.4°F) for up to 30 days. Best of all, he hopes to make the technology as widely accessible as possible by not patenting the design.

"I don't think that it should be patented to restrict use," Broadway told the BBC. "I make things every day for people who have everything. I wanted to make something for people who have next to nothing. It should be a basic human right, in my opinion, to have a vaccination."

The device has the potential to make some real change to vaccination distribution. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.5 million deaths could be avoided if global vaccination coverage improves.

His idea is inspired by the 2-phase ammonia-water absorption refrigeration invented by none other than Albert Einstein in 1906. The Isobar works through heating ammonia and water, resulting in evaporation, which provides a powerful endothermic cooling effect. This cooling effect is then maintained in a separate chamber and released by an automated valve that monitors the internal temperature. The heating element can be recharged within an hour using either electricity or a propane burner in emergency situations when a power supply isn’t available.

As Broadway explains on the Dyson Award website: “I came up with my solution while camping in Mexico. My friends brought 13kg of ice with them and I thought that there must be a better system of cooling than this. I saw that we had 4 propane stoves and wondered if you could make a cooling effect by heating it. I discovered a 1929 forgotten cooling invention called "Icyball" that had no moving parts and provided rural farmers access to off the grid refrigeration."

There are now plans to present the idea to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the World Health Organization to run a pilot study using the unit.

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